John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, boards a ship for British West Africa with Alice, his bride. As they travel, the crew mutinies, but a kind sailor makes sure that the Englishman and his wife will not be killed. He then abandons them in a wilderness harbor with all of their luggage and a few supplies. John and Alice gather and hunt to live after their supplies run out. Although not a skilled carpenter, John builds and furnishes a log cabin with a clever door latch for protection against wild animals. Their son is born there. A year later, Alice dies, and John is killed by an ape, Kerchak. They baby is now alone and defenseless.
Among the attacking apes is Kala, a female whose own baby has recently died. Finding the now-orphaned, hairless white baby, she takes it up as her own. After ten years, the puny and slow Tarzan—“white ape” in their tongue—begins to mature in both body and brain. Although he knows nothing of his connection with his parents' cabin, he is fascinated by it. He figures out how to open the cabin latch,where he finds lots of books, including a brightly illustrated alphabet book. The “bugs” on the pages fascinate him, and in time he teaches himself to read them. I marveled at how the author described the way Tarzan taught himself to read. He also finds a sharp hunting knife and, when a huge gorilla attacks him, he accidentally discovers the knife’s usefulness. With it, he gains status as the tribe’s greatest hunter and fighter.
Later, a tribe of black Africans settle in the area, and Kala whom Tarzan loves like a mother, is killed by one of the tribe's hunters. Avenging himself on the killer, Tarzan begins an antagonistic relationship with the tribe, raiding its village for weapons and playing cruel pranks on them. They regard him as an evil spirit.
Eventually a party of white travelers become marooned on the coast, including Jane Porter, the first white woman Tarzan has ever seen. Tarzan spies on the newcomers, helps them, and saves Jane from the dangers of the jungle. Eventually Tarzan learns how to behave as a white men. He guides them to the nearest colonial outposts. In the end, Tarzan travels to Jane's native Baltimore, Maryland to find her. She has moved to the woods of Wisconsin. Tarzan finally does find Jane in Wisconsin where they renew their acquaintance and he learns the bitter news that she has become engaged to William Clayton. Meanwhile, clues from his parents' cabin have enabled him to learn his true identity.
Recommended by: Josephine Sorrell, Library Media Specialist, North Carolina USA
Paperback version: 978-1440451386 148 pages Ages 10 and up